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Adventure

The 70-year-old who kayaked the Atlantic

Transatlantic rower Aleksander Doba in his kayak. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP via Getty Images

Aleksander Doba decided to kayak across the Atlantic three times between the ages of 63 and 71 because he didn’t want to be “a little gray man”. The adventurous Pole always had a thirst for what he called katorga (hard labour), says Elizabeth Weil on The Daily. He used to take his two young sons on expeditions so demanding that his wife Gabriela would check their physical condition before they left and check them again on their return. Doba then became obsessed with kayaking – in the 1980s he was caught illegally paddling in the Baltic, but because he had broken so many laws the border patrol didn’t know how to charge him. “In that case I’ll be on my way,” Doba responded.

His first transatlantic trip in a kayak he designed himself was from Senegal to Brazil in 2010. The 3,350-mile trip took 99 days. He left his hearing aids at home (but took some of his wife’s plum jam) and paddled naked in the intense heat. When his wife got a bill for $500 after he made two calls using his satellite phone “the desire to talk” decreased. Three years later, he paddled 6,300 miles in 196 days from Portugal to Florida, fuelled by homemade wine. Then, to his wife’s annoyance, he undertook a North Atlantic crossing from New York to France in 2017. Huge waves and 55-knot winds wrecked his rudder, so the 70-year-old reluctantly accepted repairs from a passing ship, eventually making it to Le Conquet after 110 days. Sadly, however, his capacity for katorga ended on Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year, when high-altitude pulmonary oedema killed him at the age of 74.

Listen to the podcast here.